The smallest and holiest city in all of Milwaukee County, St. Francis, is regarded as a quiet lakeside haven with a centuries-long Roman Catholic connection. While the city is much more known for its pious past than its modern day affiliation to the beers and bars of its northern neighbor (that has rightfully earned the “Brew City” moniker), there are a few drinking establishments throughout St. Francis, should residents or visitors seek liquid indulgence.
Of the handful of watering holes clustered in the shadow of the St. Francis Seminary, only one actually brews its own beer. Since 2009, Saint Francis Brewing Co. (3825 S. Kinnickinnic) has stood at the corner of KK and Howard Avenue. Seeking sudsy sacrament on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, my girlfriend and I paid a long-overdue visit to the mecca of St. Francis brewpubs.
And there’s no missing the place. Besides holding esteemed real estate at the corner of two main Southern Milwaukee causeways, the building is massive and accented with huge lighted letters spelling the restaurant’s name, as well as an exterior vat. The window-laden brick exterior is supported—both visually and architecturally—by stylish metallic beams. The sleek façade of the young structure continues to the interior of the restaurant. As we walked in, I was taken aback at how nice it was. Sometimes spacious sites of the like (usually sports bars are comparable in square footage) plaster alcohol supplier signage on the walls or—understandable in the case of a true blue sports bar—load vacant wall space with televisions.
Not Saint Francis Brewery. Save for the trio of televisions mounted above the lengthy bar and a couple hung in the southeast corner, the joint seems more focused on comfort with dim track lighting, stone walls reminiscent of a rectory foyer and a line of long wooden beams extending from the ceiling that are forged into intentionally-churchy arches.
We breezed past a courteous hostess and plopped down at the bar. I snatched up a Beer Bible (my words, not theirs) and took in descriptions of the octet of in-house beers fittingly hooked to the stone saint tap toppers.
Though I tried to fight temptation as the bartender offered vivid and knowledgeable descriptions of each beer, I quickly gave in and ordered the latest of Saint Francis’ monthly offering—the newly-tapped Pumpkin Ale ($5 happy hour price). The only other time I had a beer from the brewery, I was left wholly unsatisfied by its Nut Brown Ale. Unfortunately, this time wasn’t much different.
Admittedly, I’m the same guy who recently subsisted solely on Old Styles at Gerry’s Diamond Tap, so I have nothing on Dan Murphy when it comes to evaluating barley and hops. Still, most breweries run the gamut of flavors with their seasonal offerings. I found Saint Francis’ to be unadventurous and sterile.
With my next selection, I went with a brew from what I felt was the opposite (of the eight options that only went as murky as the aforementioned nut brown ale) end of the spectrum: Envy IPA. Of the six regular tappers (each named after biblical sins, mind you), Envy had the hoppiest description. Again, I just wasn’t having this safe attempt at an IPA. Instead of the unabashed, love-it-or-leave-it flavor I’ve come to know of most other IPAs, Envy was a diluted golden effort seemingly culled from a homebrew book. That said, it wasn’t bad. But it wasn't something I’d drop $5 on again.
My girlfriend, also not big on her Pumpkin Ale, coveted an item from the 10-drink specialty cocktail list. The Saint Francis Dreamsicle ($8) is a thoughtfully crafted and shaken combination of orange cream vodka, vanilla schnapps, whipped cream and in-house orange soda. In my greed, I tempted her wrath and asked to try it. Even with the immediate advantage of super sweet base ingredients, the orange soda really stood out—in a good way.
The space is immaculate, the menu looks divine and the house-crafted soda is a nice touch. However, the broad strokes in the “Brewery” part of Saint Francis Brewery left something to be desired. It was a risk to bring self-described sin to once-holy grounds of the Milwaukee suburb. The beer recipes should reflect that.
In-text image courtesy of St. Francis Brewing Co. Homepage image via Shutterstock.